Rolling Thunder 1965-68 - Johnson’s Air War Over Vietnam

Published on
February 11, 2018
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Richard P. Hallion
Other Publication Information
Illustrator: Adam Tooby, Soft Square Bound ; 7.2” x 9.8”, 96 pages
Product / Stock #
Air Campaign 3
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Front cover

Richard Paul Hallion was born in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 1948. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1970 with a B.A. and followed up with his Ph.D. in 1975, again from the University of Maryland. He was a curator of science and technology at the Smithsonian from 1974 to 1980. He has worked with the Air Force Flight Test (Edwards AFB), the Aeronautical Systems Division (Wright-Patterson AFB), the Army War College, and many other aeronautical institutions. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the Royal Historical Society, and an Honorary Member of the Order of Daedalians who has flown as a mission observer in a wide range of military aircraft, including the Vietnam-era AH-1, Canberra, C-1, C-130, C-141, C-5, F-104, F-105, F-4, F-111, O-2, P-3, CH-46, SH-3, and UH-1. He has authored many articles and books, with his first book being published in 1972 by Macmillan: Supersonic Flight: Breaking the Sound Barrier and Beyond.

Adam Tooby is a rising star in the field of aviation art, creating groundbreaking photo-realistic work. Moving away from traditional approaches to the subject matter, he uses computer technology to produce both technically accurate and visually dynamic images of some of the greatest military aircraft in history.

Warbirds features stunning images of aircraft in action, from the First World War to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and from around the world, including the iconic Spitfire, the popular P-51 Mustang and the unusual Javelin. Some of the images have been produced exclusively for the book, while others have previously featured in aviation history publications and on the covers of Airfix boxes. With step-by-step sections, close-ups showing the incredible accuracy and detail of the art – down to rivets and bolts – as well as historical context, aviation enthusiasts, military historians and artists will be blown away.

This is the third release in Osprey’s new Air Campaign series that will focus on “How history’s greatest air wars were planned and fought, and why they were won or lost”. The book includes 96 glossy pages and features a front cover with a clipped version of a two page color painting by Adam Tooby of Douglas A-4E Skyhawks dive bombing the Phuong Dinh railroad bridge bypass on September 10, 1967. I counted 54 black and white pictures and two color photographs. Adam Tooby contributes three color paintings along with 7 color illustrations and 4 color maps. There are twelve tables as noted in the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Chronology
  • Attackers' Capabilities
    • US Cold War Air Power
    • Principle Land Based and Naval Strike Aircraft at the Onset of Rolling Thunder [Table]
    • Aircraft, Weapons, and Ordnance
    • Land Based and Naval Strike Aircraft as Rolling Thunder Matured [Table]
    • The Chain of Command [Page 17]
    • Preparing for the Wrong War
    • US Air Order of Battle, July-August 1965 [Table]
  • Defenders' Capabilities
    • ADF-VPAF in the Mid-1960s
    • Early Days
    • North Vietnam’s Air Defense Forces
    • Strengths and Weaknesses [Page 28]
    • North Vietnamese Air Order of Battle, July-August 1965 [Table]
  • Campaign Objectives
    • Trying Not To Win
    • Gradualism and the ‘Tragic Mistake’
    • Tonkin Gulf and its Aftermath
    • Politics, Strategy, and Reprisals
    • “The Situation in Vietnam is Deteriorating”
  • The Campaign
    • “There Ain’t No Daylight in Vietnam”
    • 1965
      • Pessimism and Constraints
      • “Target Tuesdays” and Their Consequences
      • The Counter-Radar War [Page 47]
      • Selected USAF Combat Losses Over North Vietnam and Cause [Table]
      • The F-105 Over North Vietnam During Rolling Thunder, 1965-68 [Table]
      • Taking on the MiGs
      • VPAF Losses by US Type and Service, 1965-68 [Table]
      • Confounding the SA-2
      • Air Force F-105 Alpha Strike Package into Route Pack VIA Against Thai Nguyen 1967
      • Iron Hand and Wild Weasels
      • Wild Weasel’s First Kill
      • SA-2s Fired Versus Aircraft Lost, 1965-68 [Table]
      • Air Interdiction
    • 1966-67
      • New Targets: POL, Bridges, and Power Plants [Page 69]
      • Rolling Thunder Strike Sorties by Service, 1965-68 [Table]
      • Task Force 77 Alpha Strike into Route Pack VIB 1967
      • 1968 and the End of Rolling Thunder
  • Aftermath and Analysis [Page 85]
    • US Attack Sorties in Southeast Asia by Country and Service, 1965-68 [Table]
    • US and South Vietnamese Attack Sorties Over North Vietnam, 1965-68 [Table]
    • Targets Reported Damaged or Destroyed by Category, 1965-68 [Table]
    • Rolling Thunder in Retrospect
    • The Contrast with Linebacker I/II
    • The Military Legacy
    • Rolling Thunder Through the Eyes of Its Airmen
  • Further Reading
  • Index

1965 saw President Johnson start a new campaign to support the beleaguered South Vietnam. Operation Rolling Thunder was intended to slow down the support and re-arming of the Viet Cong into South Vietnam. The problem was that Operation Rolling Thunder was not a consistent campaign, but one that lurched and stopped again and again driven by political whims. Rolling Thunder cost 881 aircraft over North Vietnam while delivering around 643,000 tons of ordinances from both the American and South Vietnamese forces. President Johnson finally halted Operation Rolling Thunder due to escalating political pressure in October 1968 amidst his decision not to run for re-election.

Hallion lays out the strategic and tactical decisions that US airmen had to deal with from their superiors that effectively crippled any real chance for a successful operation. Utilizing aircraft designed for a nuclear Cold War, but used for conventional warfare, basically provided only a platform on how not to fight an air war. Hallion opens up with a background that leads into Operation Rolling Thunder coupled with a chronology of the major actions during the operation. He follows with an assessment of the capabilities of both sides and the overall strategy, or in this case the lack of a winning strategy. The next section delves into the elements of the operation from 1965 and 1968 and how the crews fought to survive the limitations placed upon them.

I found the sheer arrogance in Washington fascinating although there were so many examples that just made my blood boil. One quote stuck out as recalled by General William Westmoreland:

“Interference from Washington seriously hampered the campaign,”…”noting that Lyndon Johnson bragged that airmen “can’t even bomb an outhouse without my approval” an adding that “Washington had to approve all targets in North Vietnam, and even though the Joint Chiefs submitted long range programs, the State Department constantly interfered with individual missions. This or that target was not to be hit for this or that nebulous non-military reason.”

Even though I understand the chain of command, I truly can’t imagine the frustration that our warriors in Vietnam had to endure with the politics of the Vietnam War.

Hallion provides a readable tome on Operation Rolling Thunder, complete with supportive photographs, color illustrations, maps, and tables. If you are into the Vietnam War, this is a good reference book that provides the latest perspective on the Rolling Thunder campaign. If you own one of the previous releases in the Air Campaign series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!


Add new comment

All comments are moderated to prevent spam

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.